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Medical student is proud to be following in her family's footsteps

Oct. 10, 2013

For Katarzyna "Kasia" Kania, a second-year medical student at the IU School of Medicine, the path to medical school represents a turn toward the "family business" -- although it's not been without a few twists and turns along the way.

Kasia Kania performs lab research through with the Student Research Program in Academic Medicine

Kasia Kania performs lab research through with the Student Research Program in Academic Medicine

Kania immigrated to the United States from Poland at age 10, but she regards herself as a native Hoosier, having spent most of her childhood in Indianapolis and graduating from the International School of Indiana. She began to pursue a career in public health, earning a master's degree in the subject from Thomas Jefferson University, but ultimately decided medicine is her calling.

“I've really always just wanted to help,” said Kania, for whom joining the IU School of Medicine is a hometown return to fulfill a dream -- a dream inspired by her father, Marek, a trained anesthesiologist serving as a vice president at Eli Lilly and Co., and mother, Jadwiga, a neurologist.

“Growing up as a child, I witnessed both my parents serving as physicians in the moment," she said. "I always marveled at their abilities to help others; I want to be able to provide that same level of care as an adult."

In fact, Kania's already begun to work with patients at the IU Student Outreach Clinic, where she serves as a member of the quality improvement committee. The clinic, which is operated by students, provides free health care to uninsured and underinsured residents on the near east side of Indianapolis.

It's a topic she has more than a little knowledge of, said Kania, who spent much of her time as an MPH student focusing on health disparities and homelessness -- an experience that she hopes will continue to inform her future career in medicine. 

Nor is service at the clinic the only "extracurricular" project in which she has been involved during her first year in medical school. This past summer, Kania was accepted in the Student Research Program in Academic Medicine, a program that provides medical students the chance to pursue lab research under an experienced faculty mentor.

Her research, which focused on making chemotherapy drugs more effective, was conducted under Karen Pollok, Ph.D., associate professor of pediatrics at the IU School of Medicine. She said the project -- only a small part of a larger plan that looks into whether a specific compound called Nutlin-3a has synergistic effects on cancer cells in combination with current drugs -- taught her how to work independently, take initiative and ask questions.

"I really learned a lot about the role of basic science in the field of medicine," she said. "An important part of being in medical school is not just learning, but asking yourself those ‘why’ questions. Research provides you the opportunity to ask hard questions; it allows you to explore ideas and develop your thoughts more deeply.”

The Student Research Program in Academic Medicine program also offers medical students the chance to shadow physicians, witnessing procedures often unavailable to future physicians before residency. A member of the IUSM Surgery Student Interest Group, Kania said she won't soon forget witnessing operations by physicians such as Aaron Cohen-Gadol, M.D., assistant professor of neurological surgery. Dr. Cohen-Gadol is an internationally renowned neurosurgeon who has gained a reputation for performing challenging brain surgeries, such as while the patient is awake, or removing a tumor through a man's nose.

She also notes the program opened the door to meeting surgery residents, many who have given her the chance to take call with them and experience the daily life of a surgeon.

"The summer research program has really helped solidify my future goals and shown me what I am interested in," she said. “I'm just trying to absorb everything I can. I think it’s good for all medical students to take part in research, as well as shadowing, because they not only open your eyes to so many new ideas and concepts, but they make you excited to be a part of the world of medicine.”

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